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Marching to tradition

Sitting high atop the stands at the Largo High School football field, band director Christopher Benoit yells to his band: "Let's do this well!"

It's a simple message that underscores the pride and passion of this marching band.

Benoit, 38, band director at the school for 15 years, points to the rich history of the program to explain the drive of band members.

"We have a great tradition here, and we've always done very well," he said. "This current squad has great potential."

The 2003-04 version of the Largo High Band of Gold has 86 members, including a large group of freshmen. In many ways, the dedication of its members is common to marching bands throughout the county.

On Saturday night, most of the bands in the county converged on Clearwater High School for a Florida Bandmasters Association assessment. Each performed for 10 minutes and was evaluated by five judges in the categories of music, general effect, marching and maneuvering. There also was an auxiliary evaluation for color guards.

At Largo High, band members are supported by alumni who come to practices as volunteers to shore up the current squad and pass on the traditions of the band.

Michael Ferdon, 26, a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy, graduated from Largo High in 1996.

"I was in the band for all four years of high school," he said. "Now I'm volunteering as a marching tech. I help with technique, marching, good posture and holding your body up so that you can march correctly."

Ferdon rarely misses a practice, which are held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays during football season.

Ferdon recalls his participation in the marching band.

"I was part of something, part of a group," he said. "The traditions of this band are important and need to be passed on. That's why I'm here."

The pride and passion of the band are not lost on assistant drum major Nick Krege, 15, of Largo.

"I'm here to support the drum major any way I can," he said. "I help make things happen. It's tough sometimes if we can't get a piece of music down or our marching is off. Marching band takes a lot of discipline; that's why I like it. I spend more time here on the field with the band than I do with my own family."

Senior Mike Seery, 17, is in his fourth year as a band member. He's also the second generation of his family participating in the marching band.

"In 1978, my dad was center snare," he said. "Now I'm center snare."

Center snare is the section leader of the drum corps.

"I love the drums, and I'm here to make my section the best," said Seery, whose post-high school aspirations include majoring in percussion performance at St. Petersburg College. "I think the band has taught me things I'll need later on in life, like discipline, positive attitude and leadership skills."

Those leadership skills come at a certain price, as senior drum major Maggie Bay, 17, of Largo, can attest to. This is her first year as drum major after spending last year as a pit section leader.

"The hardest part of being a drum major is dealing with some of the human drama, the egos and personalities of the band," she said. "I always try to make sure we have fun, but I have to make sure everyone knows when to get serious and get the job done. That's what I'm here for. I try to motivate by talking to the members who are struggling. But sometimes I have to get tough. We're here to do this and do it well."

In order to be selected as drum major, Bay had to try out along with three other candidates for the job.

"I spent a lot of time watching previous drum majors and how they did things," she said. "I also practiced a lot."

Thursday's practice was the band's final preparation before Saturday's assessment.

"They're ready for it," Benoit said. "At this point in the season, the band will treat the assessment just like any other event. When it's time to perform, they get their game faces on."

He was right. Largo High's band received a superior rating, the highest given, at the assessment. Other mid- and north Pinellas bands that received a superior rating were East Lake, Clearwater, Dunedin, Tarpon Springs and Indian Rocks Christian. Countryside received an excellent rating; Palm Harbor University, a good rating. Clearwater Central Catholic did not bring a band.

Going in, band members at Largo High felt that doing well was important, no matter what the setting.

"The assessment is important, but so is every event where we perform," Krege said. "I think we all want to do our best every time we're out in front of a crowd."

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